Red beets are known officially as Beta vulgaris rubra. Researchers generally refer to this vegetable as beetroot. Although this root vegetable is popular in Europe, it doesn’t have a lot of fans in the U.S. It is less popular than okra, mustard greens, Brussels sprouts, kale and escarole. But beetroots should be celebrated as superfood. That’s because there is substantial scientific evidence that beet health benefits include lower blood pressure. This red veggie may also be helpful for type 2 diabetes, dementia, cancer and atherosclerosis (Nutrients, April 2015). New data suggest that a key ingredient in beetroots, betanin, might help reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease (Meeting of the American Chemical Society, New Orleans, March 20, 2018 in Science News, March 20, 2018).
How Does Beetroot Help Against Alzheimer’s Disease?
One of the most intriguing beet health benefits could be brain protection. There are three potential mechanisms:
1) Lower Blood Pressure: Beetroot juice has been repeatedly shown to lower blood pressure as well, or better than, many medications. Controlling hypertension is essential for reducing the risk of dementia. A recent high-powered clinical study demonstrated that nitrate-rich beetroot juice lowered systolic blood pressure by 8 points (British Journal of Nutrition, March 2018). That’s impressive. Many drugs don’t work that well.
2) Improve blood flow to the brain: Reducing blood pressure too much in older people may actually lower blood flow (perfusion) to brain tissue. That’s bad news. People who develop dizziness upon standing (orthostatic hypotension) are at greater risk for developing dementia (European Journal of Epidemiology, April 2017). Beetroot juice both lowers blood pressure and improves brain blood perfusion (Nitric Oxide, Jan. 1, 2011). The authors note:
“These results suggest that dietary nitrate [found in beet juice] may be useful in improving regional brain perfusion in older adults in critical brain areas known to be involved in executive functioning.”
3) Prevent beta-amyloid plaque buildup in brain: When dysfunctional peptides form in the brain, neuronal activity is disrupted. Eventually, memory fails. Researchers have just reported that the red compound betanin might prevent damage to neurons.
How Does Betanin Protect the Brain?
Alzheimer’s disease is associated with a build-up of beta-amyloid peptides in the brain. The real trouble begins when they connect to a metal like copper, aluminum or iron, which causes them to fold improperly. This leads to pathological plaque and inflammation within the brain.
Based on laboratory studies, betanin appears to reduce oxidation associated with the beta amyloid-copper combination. This could diminish the misfolding of beta amyloid peptides and might eventually reduce plaque buildup within the brain.
You can learn more about how beet juice boosts brainpower in this article:
Beet Health Benefits and Older People:
A review of the medical literature by New Zealand researchers revealed some fascinating results (Nutrients, Nov. 2017).
The investigators analyzed data from 12 randomized, crossover, control trials. They wanted to know whether supplementation with beetroot juice could improve physical and cognitive performance in older people. They found that beet health benefits included prolonged time to exhaustion during cycling. The juice also:
“improved walking duration prior to onset of pain by 18% and maximal walking time by 17% in older adults with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).”
Two days of beetroot juice improved blood flow to the brain (Nitric Oxide, Jan. 1, 2011). Two weeks of beetroot juice:
“resulted in improvement in simple reaction time, compared to a placebo.”
That study involved older adults with type 2 diabetes (Nitric Oxide, Aug. 31, 2014). Short-term supplementation with beetroot juice did not improve cognitive performance. It would be interesting to see whether longer-term treatment might make a difference in brain function.
Stories from Readers:
We’ll bet you are tired of reading all this scientific gobbledygook. Here are some reports from our readers.
Jeff in Virgina found capsules to his liking:
“My wife and I take a few capsules of beet root powder daily, available at a fairly modest price. While we have not devised rigorous experimental or statistical methodology, we have seen significantly lowered blood pressure—we measure our blood pressure several times per day at home using a top-rated arm cuff device.”
Tony in Thailand reports:
“Beet juice with 2 tsp apple cider vinegar has brought my blood pressure down.”
Donna in Ohio adds:
“I have had severe side effects from BP meds. I think that I tried over 6 different types. And the worst part? My BP never got consistently lower. Sometimes it spiked to 190/150.
“I started mixing about 2-3 ounces 100% beet juice with my morning orange juice, and my BP was much more in the normal range (about one week after starting the beet juice).
“I did not care for the taste of beet juice, and it was not convenient while traveling. So I decided to try this: Beet Root Capsules 605 mg, pure all-natural extract pills. I take 2 in the morning and I am now in the normal range for my BP. Praise the Lord!”
Kristi in Chapel Hill, NC, got a surprising surge from beets:
“I’m thinking beets work for we women as well for adding some zip (or unzip!) back in our lives. I went to a lunch spot yesterday and enjoyed a delicious salad called ‘Bibb, Blue, and Beets’ which featured a significant amount of freshly roasted red beets.
“A couple hours later, a I felt a distinct ‘call for action.’ And today, my sex drive is zipping along beautifully. It has been a good number of years since I felt this way (late 50’s). I was so surprised I’ve been looking up articles today and ran across this web page. More beets, please!”
The article Kristi was referring to is this one:
People’s Pharmacy Update Perspective on Beet Health Benefits:
Many health professionals have a hard time swallowing the idea that beets or beetroot juice can lower blood pressure as well as some FDA-approved medications. They may not have looked at the data.
There are a surprising number of controlled, clinical trials involving beetroot juice. Most have detected a blood pressure-lowering effect. Compounds in beets make blood vessels more flexible and lead to vasodilation. That has been the proposed mechanism to lower blood pressure.
Another study adds an interesting twist to our knowledge (American Journal of Physiology. Heart and Circulatory Physiology, July 1, 2017). Researchers discovered that beetroot juice also affects the nervous system. When we get nervous or excited, adrenaline starts to flow more aggressively throughout the body. Neuroscientists call this increased sympathetic nerve activity. Beetroot juice decreases this overactive sympathetic outflow.
Whether beet health benefits will include brain protection remains to be seen. The pharmaceutical industry has little incentive to test a food that cannot be patented.
Every health professional we talk to encourages our readers and the listeners of our nationally syndicated ratio show to eat more vegetables. Why not make one of those vegetables beets? Who knows, it just might lower your blood pressure and protect your brain.
Do you eat beets? Have a favorite recipe? Please share it in the comment section below. Let us know what you think about beet health benefits.